What is a Flow State of Mind?
There are times in our lives when we experience a sense of harmony with an activity, a feeling of being completely in tune with what we’re doing. It is the quality of being fully present, absorbed and immersed in an activity. This Flow State of Mind creates an effortless momentum and energized focus with which we function in that moment.
You may remember a time where you’ve had such an experience even in simple activities such as swimming, watching a sunset, painting, listening to music etc.
What is Flow Psychology?
The study of the flow state of mind (flow psychology) is a part of positive psychology that delves deeper into understanding this cognitive function of our minds. But what is positive psychology?
“Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living” (Peterson, 2008).
Beyond the material aspects of our day to day to lives, lies a greater purpose. Without a higher purpose, there is a lack of fulfillment in our lives. We all seek a deeper meaning and quality of life that are satisfying not only to the needs of our bodies, but more importantly our mind and soul. It is the ever present need and search for peace, happiness and satisfaction in whatever we do. Flow psychology seeks to study this phenomenon which lends to achieving positive feelings through the work that we do.
There is an insightful verse in the Bhagavad Gita, “One who is not in transcendental consciousness can have neither a controlled mind nor steady intelligence, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?”
History of Flow Psychology
The study and research into the flow state of mind became prevalent in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The pioneer of the research was Mihaly Csikszentmihályi. He was fascinated by artists who would get so lost in their work that they would disregard the need for food, water and even sleep. This tendency can often be seen in various creative activities, such as creating music, writing etc. It can also be experienced in day to day activities, or work tasks that we undertake. The ancient science of Yoga that originates from India, has a great depth of information and practitioners who are able to achieve deep states through meditation.
The potential to apply this principle, and be able to tap into the state of flow at will is a most exciting proposition. The impact this could have on our productive and creative output can be immense.
While the concept of flow was termed in this way by Mihaly and began further research in this field, deep insights into understanding the states of mind have existed far before.
Ancient Vedic texts from India (5000 years ago) and subsequent eastern philosophies, draw insight and a present a deep knowledge into the states of mind, consciousness and soul.
The Vedic way of life has always been a holistic one that focuses not only on the needs of the body, but also the mind and soul. There are many different types of Yoga explained in the Bhagavad Gita and even the ancient practice of medicine, Ayurveda, is much more intuitive to the needs of your entire physical, mental and emotional well-being than just the physical symptoms the modern medicine tends to treat.
There are two sets of concepts that we will be looking into in this article: the 4 Brain Wave States and the 5 States of Mind in connection to achieving the Flow State.
Fundamental Concepts of Flow Psychology
The 5 Brain Wave States
At the root of all our thoughts, emotions and behaviours is the communication between neurons within our brains.The brain naturally exhibits different electrical patterns and functions on frequencies – also known as the brain wave states. There are 5 brain wave states that we experience at different times.
These are the highest frequency waves. They are associated with insight, peak focus and expanded consciousness. It involves the process of sharp concentration and hyper-focused awareness, which can present itself when you’re learning a new task or absorbing new information.
This is the second highest frequency of brain waves that we experience. It is our waking active consciousness as we go about our tasks through the day. We exhibit high energy levels, focus and alertness. For example, when you’re driving, socially interacting, working etc. In this state you are actively processing information around you.
This is a lower frequency than Beta, and can be experienced at times when we are just about to fall asleep or when we wake up from sleep. This is the state in which an optimum level of the flow state of mind can be experienced and can help us to tap into our creativity. It is a feeling of a calm, relaxed state of mind that is absorbed in an activity. Through practice and various techniques we can learn to tap into this state of mind to enter into the flow state, which we will discuss in upcoming sections of this article. (can’t be in a new activity) – haven’t reached that skillset/ability
Theta Waves & Delta Waves:
Finally, the lower frequencies that we experience are the theta waves and delta waves. Theta waves are experienced when we fall asleep in a dream state and delta waves which are a deep restorative dreamless state.
The 5 States of Mind
Before we get into discussing how you can achieve a state of flow, let’s also look at the 5 states of mind as explained by the Vedic texts, with which a correlation to the Brain Wave states can be observed. Yoga is a science of connecting with the Supreme Lord and involves various meditative practices. The understanding and control of the Mind is the most important tenet of all yoga practices, which have various mental, physical and emotional benefits.
In the Bhagavad Gita it is stated: “For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be the greatest enemy.”
This is a state of mind in which one is constantly jumping between extremes and is unfocused. It can also be described as ‘the monkey mind’. The mind is restless, confused, anxious or troubled in this state, unable to focus on the tasks at hand. Unfortunately, in an era of constant distractions and stress, most of us can find that we are familiar with having experienced this state.
This is state of mind characterized by a sense of dullness. It is also described as ‘the donkey mind’. In this state the mind one lacks vitality and the mind is sluggish, unable to concentrate or in a state of dissatisfaction with oneself.
This state of mind is one which we alternate between moments of clarity and distraction. There is a greater sense of awareness, activity and focus that is exhibited by the mind in this state. But you are not fully in control of your mind in the Vikshipta state, which is also known as ‘the butterfly mind’, causing you to get distracted or breaking that sense of calm.
This is the state of mind known as ‘the one-pointed mind’. The mind is calm, aware, peaceful and resdy to focus. In this state you are able to focus singularly on what you want to and are able to remain in control of your mind, not allowing it to be affected by external factors or situations. This is the state that we want to achieve for entering into the flow state.
This is known as ‘the fully-focused mind’. This is a state of deep awareness and meditation that one can go into. In the scope of Yoga practice, this is the ultimate goal and a very deep state that cannot be approached or experienced by purely mental efforts.
Benefits of the Flow State of Mind
There are many benefits that can be experienced in our lives if we can learn to tap into this Flow State. In this section we’re going to broadly classify the benefits into two categories: productivity and creativity. As creatives, marketers and freelancers, we are always challenging ourselves to improve our outputs and manage our energy levels.
Boost Your Productivity with the Flow State of Mind
When we are able to control and direct our minds, we are able to choose how we utilize our time. Otherwise we can find ourselves subjected to the whims of our restless minds.
Tapping into the flow state can help us improve our focus and concentration which allows us to stay singularly focused on the tasks at hand. SIngle-tasking is a concept that can benefit us as we try to train our minds. It allows us to be absorbed in the activity and therefore it increases our efficiency. When we are able to prioritise our time, cut out distractions and point our mind towards what we want to achieve – we are naturally able to be more productive and are able to fulfill the objectives we set out to do.
The great thing about this is that it enforces positive feelings of accomplishments, it helps us to avoid procrastinating our work and thereby it can help us to reduce common ailments such as stress and anxiety in this digital era. With our mind working and functioning in this calm state, we experience a harmony with the task that we are doing.
Having deeper levels of concentration also enables us to learn new skills and absorb new information quickly, while enjoying the process.
Also Read: Why Do We Procrastinate?
Boost Your Creativity with the Flow State of Mind
In the flow state of mind we experience deeper levels of creativity. When our mind is in a relaxed state of awareness, we are able to explore our ideas, thoughts and emotions freely. There is a greater sense of meaning and acceptance that we can experience at this moment.
The sense of enjoyment in the process of creation or activity, can help us unlock an inherent potential by making new connections.
When you become immersed and absorbed in the process, there is a a harmony within ourselves and we are able to allow our imagination to take flight.
In more active states of the mind, we often confine our thoughts, and struggle to work continuously on a task. But in a state of flow, we are able to tap into rhythm of the process and the freedom to create.
How to Get Into A Flow State of Mind
Now we come to the much awaited question – how can I get into a flow state? We’ve understood what flow is, when we experience it, the history behind the psychology of flow and the benefits of the flow state so far.
Now let’s dive into how we can train our minds to tap into the flow state. There are practical steps that we can all take that help us create the right atmosphere, and train our minds for greater control.
Set Clear Goals
In his book, Csíkszentmihályi explains that flow is likely to occur when an individual is faced with a task that has clear goals that require specific responses.
Setting clear goals helps you to stay focused on the objectives you want to achieve. SMART goals are a great way to keep yourself on track with the activity at hand.
- Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
- Achievable (attainable).
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic, results-based).
- Time bound (time-based, time-sensitive).
In this digital era, it has become increasingly difficult and seemingly impossible to avoid distractions. Our phones and digital devices are constantly pinging us for attention. It has in-fact rewired our brains into living in this chaos of constantly switching from one activity to another. This inhibits us from being able to give our full attention to what we’re doing and reduces our productivity.
Simple steps that we can take to eliminate distraction when we’re working on something, is putting aside our phones, putting it on silent or turning off push notifications. This will allow you to control the time you spend on your device and when you choose to do it. And while you work on the task or activity, you can enter into a state of flow without constant interruptions that prevent you from entering into the flow state of mind.
Another powerful step you can take is to avoid checking your phone 1 hour before sleeping and 1 hour after waking up. These pockets of time are also natural alpha wave states where your mind is in that state of calm awareness and freely connect thoughts and ideas.
Combining other practices in these hours can help you go into a state of flow with your thoughts or carefully chosen activities.
Practicing Mindfulness & Pranayam
Mindfulness is the state of training yourself to be present in the moment. One of the best ways you can do this is through Pranayam, which is and ancient practice of Yoga, originating from India. Pranayam are different breathing exercises that help you to balance your internal energy. It also directs your mind to focus on your breath, and be completely present in that moment.
You can achieve a state of calm and peace through this practice and it can help you to enter into the state of flow
Single-Tasking / Batch processing
We discussed setting clear goals and eliminating distractions. The next thing to focus on is your task management. How you organize your tasks can have a huge impact on your productivity and ability to enter into the state of flow.
Multi-tasking is a concept we have all heard about and experienced. Perhaps at times we’ve even been proud of our ability to multitask. But is multitasking actually good for you?
Multitasking primarily involves doing more than one task at a time, which is often not an accurate representation of what’s happening. One, your attention is divided and you aren’t doing your best at either. Two, mostly you are simply switching quickly between different task.
Task switching greatly lowers our levels of efficiency. Therefore single tasking is something you can practice, to focus your mind a 100% on one task at a time.
Another practical application is batch processing, which is grouping similar tasks together. Such as reading and responding to emails. This helps you to get into a state of flow and rhythm with the activities of a similar nature.
Yoga – Meditation & Chanting
There are many different types of Yoga and meditation practice as per the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas, which help in harmonizing and connecting the body, mind and soul.
One of the most powerful practices is chanting of mantras. Mantras are powerful spiritual vibrations in the form of sound with the goal of connecting with the Supreme Lord. Spiritual practices are potent ways of gaining deeper meaning and satisfaction in our lives. Through regular practice of chanting and other meditative processes, we are training our minds to stay focused and absorbed in the present moment.
You will often find your mind wandering, but constantly reminding yourself to refocus will help you fall into a state of flow while meditating.
Doing Things That You Love
Needless to say, you cannot achieve a state of flow if you’re doing something you dislike! Try to hone your ability to enter into the flow state of mind while doing things you enjoy doing or things that inspire you.
It could be anything: reading a book, walk in nature, walk on the beach, swimming, jogging, listening to music, creating music, painting, writing, meditating, breathing.
The flow state is something that has inspired me and interested me for a while now. WIth that in mind, I’ve been curious to explore how it can be applied to our lives and help us with increasing our productivity and creativity.
And thus, the Flow Marketers project was born. It encompasses my journey of exploration into this topic for creatives, marketers and freelancers.
There are many times I’ve found myself lost in an activity, such as playing the guitar, painting something, sitting in the garden, doing pranayam or chanting.
Have you experienced the flow state of mind ? I’d love to know your experiences in the comments below.
Also Read: Work From Home Pro